By Sarah Wandor
Movie Critic Columnist
Never before have I been brought to silence by the opening of a film. Mere words cannot describe the level of the depth of feeling embedded in those first moments of “All Quiet on the Western Front.”
Not a word is spoken as uniforms are stripped from the dead and sent away to be repaired and given to another poor soul who signed up for the war out of an act of idealistic nationalism, only to become a dead man walking.
The beginning of the film, however, is only the beginning of the heartbreak we witness. Optimistic young men register to be soldiers without any idea of what they are truly signing up for. Yet, we know what awaits them; we feel the doom looming over their heads which they cannot and do not yet see as they are sent to the front.
Everything we see and hear in the film speaks to the tragedy of war. I have seen many films in which the cruelty and horror of war is portrayed, yet never before have I seen anything so haunting, gut wrenching, and heart shattering as what this film showed me.
It contrasts the enthusiasm of the young men who just enlisted with music warning of the doom to come. It shows the men in the mud of the trenches being wet, dirty, and miserable. It then shows a fancy train car with spotless floors, clean clothing, and fancy furniture.
This film shows the disparity between those leading the war and those actually doing the fighting. We see the soldiers lacking sufficient food, and in the very next scene we see fresh fruit being served to their superiors. We are shown young men dying in the mud and blood of no man’s land, and then we are shown gentlemen being served tea and breakfast. This contrast was WWI, where men killed and died on the frontline as a result of the orders of generals who were trapped in the past.
This film captures so much through clever storytelling and cinematography. Naked trees, cold wind, and bare branches reflect the mood of the story so well.
We watch the men laugh without any joy ever reaching their eyes. We see them bond out of a desperation for friendship and normalcy in a war where your next breath could be your last.
The bonds that are formed between the men are beautiful, but the cruelty of war manages to destroy all of this as well. As the men charge into war, both sides become inhuman and display a fierce desire to simply stay alive.
“All quiet on the western front” captures the feelings of every man who has been in war. It shows the small pieces of joy which these men clung to, but it also shows the way war consumes everything it touches.
This film shows the sacrifice, heartache, pain, misery, and cruelty of war in such a haunting and unforgettable way. This is an excellently made film that left me speechless and tearful, praying for peace.